Gazing into GHG’s Palantir: ‘The Ring Goes South’

The Grey Havens Group Palantir has seen and heard much, but it is unpredictable and often fell. As the mists clear, the withered leaves of past conversations are revealed in barest shreds…

The wrath of Caradhras is indeed great! The Mountain sent everything it had against GHG’s palantiri, attempting to prevent the discussion from continuing. Even so, for such an arduous and chaotic journey, the meetings were fruitful, and the six plus hours of discussion not wholly due to the Mountain’s fury.

Why are Elrond and Aragorn the primary selectors of the Fellowship’s members? In part, Elrond takes pride of place as the oldest and wisest of the Council, barring consideration of Gandalf. He is also the host. The Quest is the fulfillment of Aragorn’s fate and his final pursuit of the kingship, as such he plays a central role in it. Also, as the heir of Isildur, who largely causes this mess, he bears the weight of duty to see it through to the ultimate destruction of the Ring and Sauron. The two month delay between the Council and the leave-taking of the Fellowship is used primarily for scouting and the thought required of the selection of the Fellowship members. It may also be indicative of Aragorn’s need to gather himself and come to grips with his foretold role. In Elrond’s repeated question of Frodo’s resolve, may also be seen a potential inducement for Strider…a sort of ‘if he can do it, why can’t I’ situation.

Naming is of huge importance in Tolkien’s secondary world; his names mark a lexical importance not seen in naming conventions for many centuries. There is an element to prophesy to Tolkien’s names, but they are also more often than not given, received or taken on, becoming a way of speaking to the character of a particular person and their current state or where they would like to take their life.

Where do the scouts go? Particularly, what is the errand of the sons of Elrond? They clearly go to Lothlorien. However, it is not so described in the text; it is referred to in a rather round-about way, which may imply an element which has crept into the tale. In this ambiguity, there are a lot of questions to be discussed: Did they gaze into the Mirror? How much did they tell Galadriel? She would have known Frodo and Sam, and most likely Strider and Gandalf would be coming her way, but probably not the rest of the Company. And even if the full company is known, perhaps the inclusion of a dwarf is left out on purpose?

Frodo sees a red star waxing in the south. It is a clear reference to the same red star seen over Gondolin prior to its fall, and again before the suicide of Nienor; a link which draws this story closer to the full Legendarium and lends credence to the fact that it is indeed one and the same story as Sam will describe it at the Stairs of Cirith Ungol. The traditional superstitions regarding the planet Mars are implied here as well: as a portent of war and conflict.

Contemplating Merry and Pippin’s inclusion in the Fellowship led to tremendous discussion far afield. They are both eminently unsuitable for the quest, given they both treat it as a sort of holiday to begin with. It becomes a question of loyalty and friendship; even so, there is little evident value in their inclusion until they are left to their own devices with the Uruk Hai, or even later at their oath-takings. The question of their inclusion, however, led to the deeper question of why Elrond wanted to send them back to the Shire to begin with. Is it simply to save them from the arduous journey they obviously don’t understand? Or does he know of what changes are happening in the Shire? Or are yet to come? If this last is true, why wouldn’t he send further messengers? Are he and Gandalf hoping in hardship the hobbits of the Shire will toughen up? There is a certain level of callousness demonstrated by both Gandalf and Elrond here, which seems to point to an attitude towards complete focus on the quest at hand over any other concerns.

Elrond’s prescience here became the major point of inquiry; and tied to it the nature of knowledge gained via the Mirror. Elrond may or may not be prescient; but he doesn’t really need to be being as long lived as he is. Patterns arise in history; he should be capable of piecing together the likely outcome of events. The Mirror gives visions of things which are often questionable and incomplete. They are true in a sense, but the truth which comes from the information of an instant, and so may be changed. We got far afield in the mechanism by which the Mirror might work, as it is formed from the waters of a stream. Ulmo lord of waters is most versed in the Music of the Ainur and most able to see somewhat of the structure of the future, thereby lending that power to the MIrror. However, it only contains the Music in a stream, and of that only that in the ewer, and only that which is poured into the bowl…and that explains the incomplete or shaky vision which is given. It is much like the example of telling time. The instant you say it is present (or a given time) it is past. It can only be true and complete in a split second.

After the selection of the Fellowship, Bilbo and Frodo converse in Bilbo’s room. Bilbo shows complete disregard for Elrond’s home, plunging Sting into the woodwork, and the decoration of the Mithril coat seems excessive if it is to be an item of utility and not decoration. Why all this detail of crystal and pearls at this point in the story? The only answer which seems to fit is to establish its great worth before explaining the nature of mithril.

What does Bilbo mean when he uses the word “spared” to describe his hope that he be spared to write a sequel? To the modern mind it appears simply a wish to be spared death. But looking at spared’s meaning and development, it is closely tied with ‘thin’ and ‘sparse’, both close references to Bilbo’s sensation of being butter over too much bread. He hopes to survive. He may also question what destruction of the Ring will do to his long life. And he may solely be speaking of conserving time and energy in order to take on the task.

This led into the apparent ascetic aspects of both Bilbo and Frodo, and their slow withdrawal from the world to a more spiritual plane of existence. Which led further into portrayals of Men in art through history and thence into the integral ties between art, architecture and history.

It is often forgotten or conveniently ignored that the Fellowship travels exclusively under the cover of darkness after they leave Rivendel until they are defeated by Caradhras. As Borromir puts it, they are traveling as thieves in the night; which is a turn of phrase with particularly Christian meaning as it is used to describe the Second Coming. This fact, and Elrond’s prize winning worst pep-talk ever, as well as the noted lack of living sound in Hollin, lend an air of seriousness to the beginning of the quest. It creates a clear mood-dampening effect after the cheer and relief of Rivendel.

In a philosophical sense this demonstrates the necessary rhythms of life, the happy and the sad, the moments of action and the moments of contemplation. It was noted that from this point on the text accelerates relentlessly up to the sojourn in the secret wood at which point time again has little measure or perceivable meaning as in Rivendel.

Another fact taken for granted is that the Fellowship is never conceived as a permanent body. From its inception the various members intend to part to their own paths, with Legolas and Gimli planning such as early as the Pass of Caradhras. Only upon Frodo is the burden of going the entire distance laid. Yet, at the same time, there is much commentary about the uncertainty of their quest and what, or who, may be found along the way. They have to set out as an act of hope, which makes it utterly fitting they embark on December 25th. In each of these moves by Tolkien, in his timing and careful exposition of motives he harkens back to a medieval mindset in which there is a cosmic order which ripples through the ages.

Reaching Hollin, the reader is immediately struck by seemingly sentient stones. Are they sentient? Do their reported memories indicate some form of anthropomorphism or animism? Is this a particular skill of Legolas or all elves? This appears to be an elvish ability, which allows him to feel out the stones as another sense, to read their aura in a form of physiological or psychic archeology.

The ‘attack’ on the pass is a mystery, particularly who might be responsible: Sauron, Saruman (who there is little evidence for in the text), the landforms which would cause unpredictable weather, or Caradhras itself. Tolkien clearly lays out hints for many possible solutions, but lets the reader make their own conclusion, which led to an extended discussion on the nature of applicability. Each solution is feasible and changeable, and potentially placed to seed applicability wherein under different circumstances the text may constantly be read in a different light, but always validly as there is that implicit ambiguity. This topic continued in the vague description of the wisp of cloud which covers the stars before they attempt the pass. It should be read literally, as either just what is says or as the first sighting of a flying nazgul (taking into account Gandalf’s sense of feeling it pass overhead).

This chapter shows Legolas at his worst: a snarky, smug, annoying, and rude spoiled royal brat. As a prince, and most likely exposed to constant ‘respect’, it is very likely a learned behavior. And Gimli is much the same, though in a more coarse way. In both cases they are emblematic of what it means to be an elf or a dwarf respectively.

Gandalf’s possession of Glamdring is highlighted and specifically mentioned as the company made ready to set out. Tolkien’s choice to describe him as bearing his staff, “but girt at his side was the elven-sword” seems to imply that up to this point Gandalf did not bear his sword. That, and Gandalf’s desire to take the company through Moria may indicate some sense on his part of his battle with the Balrog. There is no evidence he yet knows the nature of the evil in the mines, but it appears he is well aware there is a major foe to be faced.

It is important to pay attention to Gandalf’s sleeping patterns. After the passing of the crebain, Gandalf does not sleep, or if he does, very little. In many ways this could be seen as indicative of his sense of the danger, the nearness of the accomplishment of his mission as ‘the Grey’ and thus his waning before waxing again as Gandalf the White.

… until the hour of our next meeting.

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